Remembering Swami Chinmayananda – Maria Wirth

Maria Wirth“Swami Chinmayanda was an exemplary teacher – clear, convincing and with a lot of humour. On one of his Jnana Yajnas I took notes and wrote a long article for a German magazine. Later I gave its English translation to him. Swami Chinmayananda read through it and acknowledged that I had conveyed the teaching well, “but”, he added gravely and then broke into a smile “your English is very German.” – Maria Wirth

Chinmayananda- SaraswatiSwami Chinmayananda’s 100th birthday is on 8th May. He was born in Ernakulam in Kerala in 1916. Those who had the good fortune to meet the Swami in person, surely treasure his memory. He was a towering personality, who stood up for the Hindu tradition once he had realised its worth. He was a man on a mission – the mission to acquaint his countrymen, especially the English educated class, with the profound insights of the ancient Rishis, which were in danger of being forgotten. He started a revival of Hindu Dharma in independent India by translating the ancient knowledge into a modern idiom and teaching it all over the country and even abroad.

Swami Chinmayananda was the ideal person to do this, as he knew from own experience the mindset of the ‘modern’, English educated Indian who wrongly believes that he has no use for his heritage, mainly because he does not know it.

Balakrishna Menon, as he was called, was born into a pious household, but he himself was not inclined towards religion or spirituality. Nobody guessed that he would become a sannyasi. He was the proverbial left liberal youth, got involved in the freedom struggle and studied literature, law and journalism. His first job was with the National Herald newspaper. He wanted to make a story on the so called holy men in Rishikesh. In 1947, he reached Swami Sivananda’s ashram – not to learn from him, but to find out how these sadhus and swamis manage to bluff people. He planned to expose them.

Swami Sivananda SaraswatiHowever, things took a different turn. Obviously, Balakrishna Menon was greatly impressed by what transpired between Swami Sivananda and him, because two years later on Maha Shivaratri, he was back in Rishikesh and took sannyas. He became Swami Chinmayananda.

From Rishikesh the new sannyasi went to Tapovan Maharaj in Uttarkashi deep in the Himalaya, and studied Vedanta as his disciple.

Discipleship, however, was not always easy, Once he even packed his bags determined to leave. His guru had accused him of having torn his cloth while washing it. Chinmayananda had denied it. Yet from that time onwards, Tapovan Maharaj called him ‘liar’, often in front of others. Chinmayanda felt hurt and decided to leave, never to come back. An older ashramite saw him packing and explained to him that the accusation was just one of the guru’s ways to hit at his ego, which was in his best interest. Chinmayananda got the point and stayed on.

Tapovan MaharajWhen he saw his guru the next time, the guru laughed, “Why are you so touchy when I call you a liar? Aren’t we all liars as long as we don’t know the truth? Do you know the truth already?”

After several years with his teacher, Swami Chinmayananda felt the urge to share his insights into Vedanta – by now convinced that the happiness that all look for cannot be found where it is generally sought. Everyone searches outside in the world among other persons and things, while it is hidden deep inside.

In the early 1950s, he left the Himalayas for the dusty, hot plains and started teaching his fellow countrymen mainly about the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads as even after Independence the education system inexplicably ignored those great Indian texts. The modern Indians had no idea that India once was the cradle of civilisation. Even the most popular of India’s sacred texts, the Bhagavad Gita, was hardly known anymore, nor the Upanishads which form the last part of the sacred Vedas and deal with profound philosophy.

Until his death in August 1993, Swami Chinmayananda hardly took off for a single day from his tight schedule. After reaching a town, that very same evening, he started his weeklong Jnana Yajna, as the camps were called. The Chinmaya Mission that he founded still exists, and trained Vedanta teachers still take classes all over the country.

I attended several of his camps, including a course in his retreat centre in Siddhabari and am grateful for that. Swami Chinmayanda was an exemplary teacher – clear, convincing and with a lot of humour. On one of his Jnana Yajnas (it was his 389th camp in 1983 in Trichy) I took notes and wrote a long article for a German magazine. Later I gave its English translation to him. Swami Chinmayananda read through it and acknowledged that I had conveyed the teaching well, “but”, he added gravely and then broke into a smile “your English is very German.”

Since my memory of that camp in Trichy is still fresh in my mind thanks to this article, I will give here a glimpse of it:

A big tent had been put up for the camp. Chants from the Bhagavad Gita were played in the background from stalls where cassettes and books were sold. About thousand people gathered at dusk, sitting on rugs on the floor.

When Swami Chinmayananda entered the stage, people welcomed him with heartfelt clapping. He looked stately, was tall, had long hair and a long white beard, sparkling and a little mischievous eyes and a roaring laughter. He was completely at ease and made us truly enjoy the class with his great sense of humour.

“Do you know the essence of Vedanta?” he asked in a booming voice and himself gave the answer, “The essence is: Undress and embrace” he thundered. People were nonplussed. He chuckled and explained, “Undress body, mind and intellect. What remains is automatically in intimate embrace with OM, the pure awareness.”

All our suffering stems from identifying with our body, mind and intellect, or in other words, with our thoughts and feelings, he claimed and gave an illustration: “You go and watch a movie. The persons on the screen experience happiness and suffering. You also experience happiness and suffering. Why? Because you identify with those figures. You sit in the theatre and cry into your handkerchief. And you even pay for it!”

It was easy to stay attentive for the two hours. He kept asking us not to believe him but to use our reason and common sense well, and analyse the human situation intelligently. For example ask yourself:

“Man has body, mind and intellect. If he has body, mind and intellect, who is he?” Certainly a good question! Usually a question that we have never asked ourselves. Amazing!

He gave the analogy of electricity: “If you believe only what you see, than each light bulb surely shines all by itself, since some shine brightly and others dimly and some red and some green. Does it not follow that each light bulb has its own, independent light?

Yet whoever inquires more deeply, will laugh at such ignorance. He knows that the one electricity is solely responsible for the light in all bulbs (and even for the sound from loudspeakers). The different colours and forms of the bulbs account for the variety in the lights, yet would there be any light without electricity? No!

Similarly, we should not take the sense perception that we all are ‘obviously’ separate at face value and enquire who we really are. What makes our body, mind and intelligence function? What mysterious power makes us feel alive as the subject, as “I”? Is it the same pure awareness which is responsible for the ‘light’ in all of us?” Yes, it is.

Swami Chinmayananda SaraswatiSwami Chinmayananda, too, like all sages, advised us to direct our attention inwards to that essence that alone is absolutely true. He advised to meditate on that mysterious OM and to develop love for it. He himself must have done it for innumerable hours in those long years in the Himalayan ashram of his guru. And he may have tapped into the source of all energy, love and joy which gave him the strength and enthusiasm to continue till the very end with his mission to make his countrymen see sense.

A bulb won’t be able to discover the electricity in itself, yet we humans can discover pure awareness, as we are already aware. We only need to drop the content of awareness to discover pure awareness which is our real and blissful nature.

The more we become aware of our real nature, the less we will be attached to the world. Desires will become less automatically. They simply drop off. The world does not bind anymore. Love and joy are not sought outside anymore. They are felt right here inside. Meditation and bhakti become natural.

Swami Chinmayananda gave again an example in his typical, humorous style, how a drastic change in attitude comes about naturally when the time is ripe:

“One day, the elder brother calls his younger brother, shows him all his toys and tells him, ‘it is all yours. If you don’t want it, throw it away.’ The younger one is convinced that unfortunately his elder brother has gone mad. Yet the elder one is not bothered. He has discovered a better toy, and knows that it is better. The little brother cannot see it as long as he is so small. One day he will understand….”

On the last evening, it became obvious that the Swami had done us a great service. Long queues formed, and slowly and silently moved in an almost sacred atmosphere to the carton boxes that had been put up near the dais for envelopes with donations. We were grateful for the many valuable insights that he had prompted us to have.

Now we only need to take them to heart. If we do, we can live life in a meaningful and fulfilling way – in tune with the eternal Dharma that flourished in India since ancient times. It is through people who live according to Dharma that it flourishes. – Maria Wirth, 4 May 2015

See also

Self-anointed godmen pose threat to Hindutva – Prabhu Chawla

Prabhu Chawla“As the younger generation acquires better education and access to unlimited sources of both pure and impure information, it is religion and its accessories that have become the greatest lure. What Marx and Mao couldn’t do to religious belief, the modern messengers of God have done, using weapons and anarchy. In India, materialism portrays religion as the worst enemy of progress and modernity. The real target, however, is Hinduism, which is the third largest religion of the world. ” – Prabhu Chawla

Gods venerate MahalakshmiDivinity never dies. Neither do institutions that form the pillars of civilisation. Both will survive as long as humanity does. But some leaders and promoters of religion in the process of advancing their own commercial or personal interests cause incalculable damage to its sanctity. If understood and practised in its true spirit, religion does not teach hatred or advocate violence. It, however, comes under scrutiny when some followers assume the role of interpreters of faith and become subjective spinmeisters. Their names are legion—babas, sants, maulanas and evangelists. They treat faith either as a business enterprise or a weapon to divide mankind. With people asserting their electoral rights to choose their rulers, the conflict between religious contracts and the democratically established system is assuming ominous dimensions. As the younger generation acquires better education and access to unlimited sources of both pure and impure information, it is religion and its accessories that have become the greatest lure. What Marx and Mao couldn’t do to religious belief, the modern messengers of God have done, using weapons and anarchy. In India, materialism portrays religion as the worst enemy of progress and modernity. The real target, however, is Hinduism, which is the third largest religion of the world.  

RampalLast week’s saga of the so-called ‘Sant’ Rampal in which six innocent cult members met violent deaths reflects the threat which a powerful religion like Hinduism is facing from its own prophets and followers. As a result, Rampal is being perceived and projected by non-believers as one of the symbols of what is wrong with Hinduism and its ambassadors. His defiance of the state, the judiciary and uncivilised conduct of his followers were used by atheists and secularists to demolish the very idea of Hinduism and what it stands for. Horror stories about the activities in his palatial ashram became lethal arsenal in the hands of those looking for dynamite to demolish one of the world’s oldest religions. Until his downfall, Rampal wasn’t projected as the criminal he is, exploiting the poor and rural lower classes who looked up to him as a saviour. In truth, he was just another gangster who was using religion to expand his real estate empire all over north India, all the while misusing his connections with powerful civil servants and politicians to expand his vast congregation of the gullible. 

Rampal is not alone. Many pretenders in various parts of the country have been using caste, community and even a glamorous lifestyle to woo millions of bhakts. Till date, over a dozen babas like Ram Rahim Singh, Ashutosh Maharaj, Baba Baljit Singh Daduwal, Amrita Chaitanya, Swami Premananda, Swami Nithyananda and Asaram have done enough damage to God’s name (read The New Sunday Express Magazine cover story, An Unholy Mess). All of them have much in common. They are richer than many top corporates, their personal life more colourful than many famous and infamous movie stars and politicians. By their avaricious activities, many so-called babas have added more converts to the army of Hindu baiters than even the good Lord could have done.

Nithy & RanjithaHinduism, however, is not the only target of the enemy within. In the 1980s, Sant Bhindranwale used arms to defend his religious beliefs and encouraged the killing of thousands of innocents. The Taliban and jihadis are killing people in God’s name and extracting money and land to establish their own social order and the tyranny of inhuman warlords. There are numerous examples of Christian evangelists straying into undesirable adventures in the name of religion. But no other religion other than Hinduism is under constant attack by either non-believers or politically motivated intellectuals. They choose to forget that a pantheon of great and credible social and political leaders has defined Hinduism as a faith, which believes and practises inclusiveness and tolerance. Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t a diehard Hindutva propagandist. Yet, his words are: “If I were asked to define the Hindu creed, I should simply say: Search after truth through non-violent means. A man may not believe in God and still call himself a Hindu. Hinduism is a relentless pursuit after truth… Hinduism is the religion of truth. Truth is God. Denial of God we have known. Denial of truth we have not known.” Let us go further back into history. In 1893, Swami Vivekananda, who swept into a relatively newborn country like America wearing saffron robes that denoted an ancient faith, proclaimed, “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.” He told his supporters, “Say it with pride, we are Hindus.”

AsaramUnlike most other religions, Hinduism neither has a specific time of origin nor a specific founder. Fraudulent oracles like Rampal used this weakness to invent their own bizarre interpretations. There appears to be strong economic reasons too for fake religious propagandists to flourish in society. An analysis of the followers of controversial godmen reveals that they come mostly from poor backgrounds and are denied unhindered access to healthcare, education and proper employment. Hence, they find solace in the hawkers of salvation, peace and good health. The proliferation of deras and ashrams is the direct outcome of the establishment’s failure to maintain India’s original character as a welfare state. All instruments of governance have fallen into the hands of oligarchies. By following pro-rich policies, they have raised aspirational levels of Indians living below poverty line. Even the rich who have been denied a share in the Growth Story turn towards the powerbrokers of God to get access to the rulers for money, healthcare, jobs and even clean water. Since India is a country inhabited predominantly by Hindus, it is Hinduism that has become the roadblock for those who want to divide the nation. Hence, the self-anointed middlemen of Hinduism pose a much more serious threat to Hindutva than even gun-toting jihadis. –, 23 November 2014

» Prabhu Chawla is the Editorial Director of The New Indian Express. Contact him at or @PrabhuChawla

Buddha was every inch a Hindu: A reply to those who think Gautama rejected Hinduism – Koenraad Elst

A wall-painting in a Laotian temple depicting the Bodhisattva Gautama---Buddha-to-be---undertaking extreme ascetic practices before his enlightenment. A Hindu god is overseeing his striving and providing some spiritual protection. The five monks in the background are his future five first disciples, after Buddha attains Enlightenment.

Dr. Koenraad ElstIn a past article, we had argued that the Buddha lived and died as a Hindu and that Bauddha Dharma is nothing but one of the sects within Hinduism. Ambedkarite neo-Buddhists and Ambedkar-touting secularists are understandably furious when their ambitions for a separate identity or their schemes for pitting Hindus against Hindus are thwarted. So we received a number of questions meant as rhetorical and as exposing the hollowness of our claim. Six are from a certain Mr. S. Narayanaswamy Iyer, then three more by a Dr. Ranjeet Singh. We reproduce them and then answer them. First Mr. Iyer’s questions:

(1) Which of our four Vedams did Buddha follow in his teachings?

Throughout his text, Mr. Iyer presupposes one of the most common weapons which the enemies of Hinduism use: changing the definition of “Hinduism” to and fro, depending on their own best interest. Thus, the Christian mission lobby swears that “tribals are not Hindus”, except when tribals defend themselves against encroachment by Bengali Muslim settlers or take revenge on the Christians for having murdered Swami Lakshmananda and four of his assistants; then they are suddenly transformed into “Hindus”. Here, as long as convenient, “Hindu” is narrowed down to “Brahmanical”. The Vedic tradition, started among the Paurava tribe established in Haryana, was the most prestigious tradition, first to take the shape of a fixed corpus and learned by heart by a class of people set apart just for this purpose. Tribe after tribe adopted this tradition, all while maintaining its own identity and religious practices. Kings in Bengal and South India imported the Vedic tradition and gave land to settle Brahmin communities just to embellish their dynasties with this prestigious Vedic tradition. But other traditions existed alongside the Vedas, both among speakers of Indo-Aryan and among Dravidians and others. Many non-Vedic elements come to light in a corpus collected in the first millennium CE, the Puranas. Many more were incorporated by the later Bhakti (devotion) poets or have subsisted till today as part of oral culture. All these Pagan practices together, Vedic and non-Vedic, constitute “Hinduism”.

When the Muslim invaders brought the Persian geographical term “Hindu” into India a thousand years ago, they meant by it: an Indian Pagan. In Islamic theology, Christians and Jews count as a special category, and Parsis were often considered as Persian and not Indian Pagans. But all the other Indians were called “Hindus”. Whether tribals, Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins”), atheists, polytheists, Brahmins, non-Brahmins, the Lingayats, even the not-yet-existing Sikhs or Arya Samajis or Ramakrishnaites—all of them were Hindus. It is now a mark of anti-Hindu polemicists that they manipulate the meaning of “Hinduism”, and interpret it more broadly or more narrowly as per their convenience. The first rule of logic is “a = a”, i.e. “a term retains the same meaning throughout the whole reasoning process”. So, against these manipulations, we will stick to one meaning for Hinduism, viz. the historically justified meaning of “all Indian Pagans.”

The Buddha had, according to Buddhist scripture, received a Kshatriya upbringing. That means his outlook was formed by an at least passive initiation into the Vedas. Never in his long life did he repudiate this. On the contrary, he only developed ideas that were already present in the Vedic tradition. Thus, “liberation” was a goal that the Upanishadic thinkers had invented and that set them apart from practically all others religions (certainly from Christianity and Islam). Meditation or yoga as the technique to achieve this liberation was first mentioned in the Upanishads. Buddhist scripture mentions two meditation teachers with whom the Buddha studied. At most he invented a new meditation technique, Vipassana (now vulgarized as “Mindfulness”), but meditation was an existing tradition into which he was initiated by older masters, and to which he contributed his own addition, like others did.

Reincarnation and karma are at the heart of Buddhism, and is the first thing which outsiders associate with Buddhism; but these concepts were introduced in the Upanishads. Even the repudiation of what the Vedas had become, particularly the repudiation of ritualism, is already found in the Upanishads. And so is the rejection of desire, the extolling of the value of compassion (daya), and the first options for celibate monkhood. When Buddha became a recluse, he followed a path that was already well established, and that is already mentioned in the Rg Veda, though only in the third person (the Vedic poets themselves were elite figures and a different class from the renunciates). The Buddha rightly said that he had not invented anything new, that he was only treading an ancient path formerly trodden by the earlier Buddhas.

Hindu attitudes to the Vedas varied greatly. Some had never heard of them, some had heard the names but knew little of their contents, some thought they were interesting literature but not a guiding light for moral decisions or choosing a way of life, some adopted practices which they called Vedic though they were not, some paid lip-service to the Vedas, and some really practised Vedic rituals or learned the Vedas by heart. Within this continuum, the Buddha took his place, without this ever being a problem for the Brahmins. The only two attempts on his life were committed by a jealous pupil of his own, a leading Buddhist. Still, he died at an advanced age.

(2) Which of our 330 devatas did Buddha worship?

The more usual number is 33, but modern tourists (and therefore also the secularists) have opted for 330 million. This number is based on a mistranslation of “33 big gods” as “33 crore (one crore = ten million) gods”. Anyway, the number can vary, but yes, there are quite a few, let us settle for “a lot”. Like many elite characters and thinkers, the Buddha is reputed to be into other things than worship, as were many people in Vedic society. Sankhya was an atheist school, as was early Vaisheshika, and so were Jainism and the Charvaka school. The Mimansa school, orthodox par excellence, taught that Vedic rituals are effective alright, but the gods invoked during the ritual proceedings are mere cog-wheels in the magical mechanism set in motion by the priests. These gods have no reality in themselves and only exist in so far as they are invested with existence by the human beings who “feed” them. So, atheism was a recognized option among the Hindu elite, of which prince Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was a prominent member.

All the same, he paid homage to the gods on some occasions. His breakthrough to liberation was followed by an intervention of the supreme gods Brahma and Indra, asking him to share his bliss and teach his way to liberation with others—the very start of Buddhism. Had the Buddha or even the later editors of the Pali Canon been as anti-Vedic as the present neo-Buddhists imagine, they could easily have censored this episode out. At the end of his life, during which he was regularly consulted on political matters because he was after all very at home in statecraft, he was asked by the authorities of a republic to formulate the qualities by which a state prevents decline. In reply, he listed the “seven principles of non-decline”, and among them is an abiding maintenance of ancient religious traditions, including rituals and pilgrimages. The ancient religious practices which he knew, were Vedic or at any rate Hindu ones. Buddhist monks later carried Vedic gods such as Indra, Brahma, Ganapati and Saraswati to foreign lands. Japanese temples are dedicated to Benzai-ten or Saraswati, some house the “twelve Adityas/Ten”. The Shingon sect of Buddhism has a quasi-Vedic ritual called “feeding the gods”, exactly the same conception as in the Vedas. Thai and Indonesian Buddhists have adopted the cult of Rama, whom the Buddha did not really worship but whom he venerated as a great scion of the Ikshvaku lineage to which he himself belonged, and of whom he claimed to be a reincarnation. Neo-Buddhists object to the long-established Puranic teaching that both Rama and the Buddha are incarnations of Vishnu, but the germ of this teaching was planted by the Buddha himself when he claimed that Rama and he were the same person.

(3) Which of our samskarams did Buddha tell his followers to observe and perform?

Samskarams (life rituals) are meant for people living in society, as the Vedic poets did. Renunciates are living outside society, often they perform their own funeral upon “leaving the world”, and after that the samskarams no longer apply to them. The Buddha founded a monastic order, an organized form of renunciation. He did not found a separate non-Hindu religion (the way the first Christians did separate from Judaism), for his lay followers were part of Hindu society. Mostly we are informed of their caste provenance, their families, their marriage situations. Whatever customs or rituals applied in their respective Hindu communities applied to them as well. Jains developed a separate lay community, but even these lay Jains are part of Hindu society. They observe caste, often intermarrying with non-Jains belonging to the same caste but not with Jains belonging to another caste. In Buddhism, even this much separateness did not exist. Buddhism was nothing but a monastic community within Hindu society. So the Buddhist order did not observe Hindu lay society’s life ritual, just as many non-Buddhist renunciates didn’t.

(4) Which of our varnashrama rules, duties and practices did Buddha teach his followers, and which of those do they perform today?

Caste is a part of lay society, not applicable to renunciates. Their names revealing their caste provenance are replaced by monastic names. The questioner also betrays his short-sighted assumptions by projecting the caste relations of recent Hindu society on that of the Buddha’s time. Social order was in flux at the time, with the Buddha e.g. defending caste as defined by the paternal line regardless of the mother’s caste against king Pasenadi disowning his wife and son when he finds out his wife (and therefore, he assumes, his son) isn’t a true Kshatriya. Clearly, both conceptions of caste, viz. in the paternal line vs. full endogamy, were competing at the time, with the Buddha taking the then more conservative position, while later the principle of full caste endogamy (only marriage within one’s own caste) was to prevail. Mind you, the Buddha didn’t use this excellent opportunity of a king’s question on caste matters to fulminate against caste. If he was an anti-caste revolutionary, as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar imagined, he would have seized this opportunity to condemn caste itself, but he didn’t.

Caste was in existence but considerably more relaxed than in later centuries. For this reason, the Buddha’s attitude was more relaxed too, unlike the obsession with caste among the neo-Buddhists. Moreover, he had chosen not to rock the boat in a society that tolerated and maintained his monastic order. In every country where Buddhism found a place, it accepted whatever social arrangement prevailed. In Thailand, it didn’t abolish hereditary monarchy though this is a casteist phenomenon par excellence. In China it didn’t abolish the centralized-bureaucratic empire. On the contrary, when the Buddhist White Lotus sect drove out the Mongol dynasty, its leader, who had started out as a Buddhist monk and was deemed the Maitreya Buddha, established a new imperial dynasty, the Ming, replacing the Mongol ruling class by a Chinese ruling class but leaving the exploitative system in place. In Japan, it didn’t abolish militaristic feudalism; instead, its Zen school became the favourite religion of the Samurai warrior class. So, in India too, it fully accepted the arrangement in place, recruited mainly among the upper castes (most Buddhist philosophers were born Brahmins), and concentrated on its spiritual mission. Buddhism as an anti-caste movement is just a figment of the secularist imagination.

(5) Which Hindu priests initiated Buddha into sannyasa? Any lineage is founded by someone who takes the jump. Later on, it is continued by followers who go through an initiation ceremony; and when succeeding their guru, they go through an investiture ceremony. But the founder just has his moment of enlightenment. Asking about the founder’s initiation is the mediocre mind’s imposing his humdrum norms onto a genius. Thus, Ramana Maharshi was unprepared when suddenly, the insight overcame him; he didn’t receive it from a teacher. Even so, when Siddhartha Gautama went to the forest, he did become a pupil of at least two meditation masters. Probably they put him through some kind of initiation, though we don’t have the details on it.

The questioner means “Vedic” whenever he says “Hindu”, and projects everything we now know as Hindu (decried by the Arya Samaj as “Puranic”) onto the Vedic age. The institutionalization of Sannyasa (renunciation) took on a shape recognizable till today with Shankara in ca. 800 CE. In the Vedic age itself, the current formalities of Sannyasa did not exist. When Yajnavalkya retired to the forest (the occasion on which he pronounced his famous exposition of the Self to his wife Maitreyi), he did not have to take anyone’s permission. Valmiki of Ramayana fame set up his own hermitage, as did seer Vasishtha and his wife Arundhati. So he starts imposing current Hindu norms on the Buddha twenty-five centuries ago. This just illustrates the over-all unhistorical character of the neo-Buddhist rhetoric.

(6) When and where did the initiation take place?

As a youngster, the Buddha must have gone through the thread ceremony making him a full Kshatriya. This was unlike most modern Kshatriyas, who leave it only to the Brahmins to don the thread. Then, he went through the marriage ritual, at least according to the Pali Canon. Some scholars doubt that he had a wife and son and think that later scholars have merely turned a particular nun and a particular monk into his mother and son. Be that as it may, Buddhist scripture makes no effort at all to deny that he had gone through whichever appropriate Hindu rituals were part of the life of anyone belonging to his class and age group.

Later, when he became a renunciate, we are vaguely told that first he searched alone, then he had some companions (though we don’t have all the details about their relations), then he had two successive teachers. To be a renunciate at that time, he did not have to go through specific rituals, but he may have. Then, after he reached his awakening, he became the topmost man in his universe and didn’t recognize any living human being above him and empowered to put him through further ceremonies. His pupils became monks through a ceremony (dharmam saranam gacchami: “I take refuge in the dharma”), just as every other Hindu sect has its own procedure for allowing new members in. The relation of his pupils to him was the same as that of other renunciates to their guru. The institution of guru-dom was, again, exported by Buddhism as far as Japan.

Then we consider Dr. Singh’s additional questions:

1) Which were the rules, duties and practices he himself followed at that particular time, had followed and used to follow before in the youth and pre-Buddhahood mendicant life?

As the Pali Canon explains, he was the son of the president-for-life of the Shakya tribe, a Kshatriya by birth and upbringing. After he became a renunciate, he practiced asceticism and several meditation techniques of which names are given, though we cannot be sure which techniques are meant by these names. At any rate, they are the same names and probably refer to the same techniques which are incorporated in the Buddhist training scheme before the meditation technique that brought the Buddha his awakening.

2) Was his marriage with Yashodhara, his first cousin, in accord with the Vedic rules: as per Shaastra injunctions?

Writing only came to India after Alexander, i.e. well after the Buddha. Though the Shastras contain older material, they were at any rate written centuries later than the Buddha. In the age of the Vedic seers, they were totally non-existent. So, unless Dr. Singh insists that the Vedic seers were un-Hindu, it is not a defining trait of a “Hindu” to follow the Shastras. Like most anti-Hindu polemicists (and, alas, quite a few pro ones too), he displays a most unhistorical conception of what “Hinduism” means, projecting recent notions onto ancient history.

What this question alludes to, is the difference in marriage customs between the Shakya tribe and the Brahmanical injunctions. The Brahmins practise, and their Shastras prescribe, rules of “forbidden degrees of consanguinity”. By contrast, certain other peoples, such as the ancient Dravidians or the contemporaneous Muslims, practice cousin marriage. In this case, we find that the Shakya tribe practiced cousin marriage. The Buddha’s father and mother had been cousins, and his own reported union was also between cousins. The Shakyas were apparently aware that within the ambient society, they stood out with this custom, for they justified it with the story that they had very pure blood, being descendants of patriarch Manu Vaivasvata’s repudiated elder children, who had arrived at sage Kapila’s hermitage in the forest and built a town there, Kapilavastu (where the Buddha grew up). So, to keep Manu’s blood pure, the Shakyas had to marry someone with the same blood.

Some scholars say this is just a story made up to convince their neighbours. The true account, according to them, is that the Shakyas were originally an Iranian tribe that had moved along with the great migration eastwards, from the Saraswati plain into the Ganga plain. The prevalence of cousin marriages was one of the main differences between Iranians and Indians. That contemporaries describe the Buddha as tall and light-skinned seems to conform to the Iranian identity. Nowadays also, after twelve centuries in India, Parsis are still physically distinct. Well, be that as it may, the custom of cousin marriage was at any rate in existence among the Shakyas, whatever its provenance.

What we have here, is a typical case of Brahmanical norms being overruled by caste autonomy, another defining feature of Hindu society. For comparison, consider two rather dramatic examples. Widow self-immolation (sati) is forbidden in Brahmanical writings since the Rg Veda, where a woman lying down on her husband’s funeral pyre is told to rise, to leave this man behind and re-join the living; yet the custom flourished among the Kshatriyas, particularly the Rajputs. Brahmins could lay down norms all they wanted, and ambitious lower castes might well imitate these Brahmin norms; but if a caste decided to defy these norms, there was little that could be done about it. For another example: abortion is scripturally condemned as one of the worst sins. Yet, some castes, such as notoriously the Jats, could kill their unwanted children before or even after birth. If today’s India has a problem with the balance between the sexes because so many girl children are being aborted, this is very much against the Shastras (though secular feminists addressing ignorant Western audiences will still blame “Hinduism”). But caste autonomy means that the caste Panchayat (council) and not the Shastric law is the ultimate arbiter. So, if the Shakyas insisted on maintaining their own non-Brahmanical marriage customs, Hindu society allowed them to do so.

3) How; on what authority and provision of the scriptures, Hindu Shastras, had he entered the fourth ashram and entered sannyasa, a born prince as he was? Was it dharma for him, a born prince? Was it in accord with and as per the teachings and provisions of the scriptures and enjoined for princes, members of the Kshatriya varna? Is it and has it been so prescribed and postulated? If yes; could we know how and where? On what scriptural grounds: what pramanas, words and provision of the scriptures?

Here again, we have a lot of projection of later Hindu scripture onto Hindu society during the Buddha’s life. First off, the notion of a “fourth ashrama” is—and here I break ranks with most Hindus and most Indologists—a confused compromise notion. The Vedic system very sensibly distinguished three stages of life: before, during and after setting up one’s own family, i.e. Brahmacharya/student, Grihastha/householder and Vanaprastha/forest-dweller. The first stage is devoted to learning, the second to founding and administering your family (until your daughters are married off and your first grandson born), the third is devoted to renunciation. This renunciation could take different forms and have differently conceived goals, but at least since Yajnavalkya, it was understood as looking for the Self, working on your liberation. This is not split into two, Sannyasa is not more renounced than the Vanaprastha stage. It is only when ascetic sects introduced renunciation not as a sequel but as an alternative to family life, that Brahmins fulfilled their typical function of integrating new things by extending the ashrama scheme to include Sannyasa. So, what Buddha entered was not a “fourth stage” (he was still in the second stage and had never even entered the third stage), but an alternative to the second stage (family life), viz. renunciation as a full-time identity and lifelong profession. Just as Shankara was to do, and as Hindu monks mostly still do. Being pluralistic, Hindu society recognizes different forms of renunciation, both after family life and instead of family life.

As a Kshatriya, it was not considered the Buddha’s dharma to renounce the world. His father hoped his son would succeed him to the throne and made every effort to keep him from renouncing the world (including his caste vocation). Similarly, Shankara’s mother tried to dissuade and prevent her son from becoming an early renunciate, as he was her only hope of her having grandchildren. Hindu society recognizes the option of monkhood as an alternative to family life, but this doesn’t mean that individual Hindu lives and schemes cannot be adversely affected by this option. Both Siddhartha and Shankara disappointed their families and renounced their caste dharma to become monks.


Neither of the questioners has been able to pinpoint a moment in the Buddha’s life or preaching when he made a break with Hinduism. He inherited most of his ideas from the ambient Hindu tradition, and stands out mostly by the institution he founded, the Buddhist monastic order. His meditation technique may be his own, though with a canon written two centuries after his death and by scribes who were less than impartial, we don’t really know what happened. His intellectual system mostly systematized ideas which were in the air and had already found mention in the Upanishads. Among his monks, Brahmin philosophers gradually refined and perfected his philosophy, ascribing most of their new ideas to the master himself.

When Dr. B.R. Ambedkar “converted” to Buddhism in 1956, he made his co-“converting” followers promise that they would renounce Hinduism and specific Hindu practices. It was the first time in the history of Buddhism that this happened. The Buddha had never renounced, or made his novices renounce, any religion they formerly practiced—in fact, the notion of “a religion” (as opposed to “religion”, a very approximate translation of “dharma”) hardly even existed. Ambedkar’s involved the typically Christian notion of conversion as “burning what you have worshipped, worshipping what you have burned”. The box-type notion of religious belonging, with rejecting one identity in order to be able to accept another, is fundamentally un-Hindu. In other countries too, entering Buddhism did not entail any formal renunciation of Daoism, Shinto or any other tradition. So, when Ambedkar and his hundreds of thousands of followers (mostly caste-fellows from his own ex-Untouchable Mahar caste) “converted” to Buddhism, most Hindus saw this as just an entry into a particular Hindu sect. As V.D. Savarkar commented, Ambedkar “conversion” was a sure jump into the Hindu fold.

Buddhism was classed as a separate religion from Hinduism because travellers and then scholars had first become aware of it outside India. When separated from its Hindu roots, it did take on a life of its own. Yet in India, it was not more than one of the many Hindu sects, although numerically the most successful one.

Finally, the Buddhist separatist polemic is fundamentally unhistorical in projecting contemporary Hindu traits onto ancient Hindu society. Unfortunately, this also counts for much Hindu activist polemic. Shastric norms are absolutized, when in fact they were changing throughout history. And most importantly, devotional theistic forms of Hinduism, now long predominant, are projected onto ancient Hinduism which had several distinct conceptions of the divine, including atheism. It is common for Hindus to lambaste non-Hindus as “atheists”, as if there were no atheist Hindus. The category “atheists” would naturally include Buddhists, who can there-from deduce a separate non-Hindu identity. This way, narrow-minded Hindus themselves reinforce the unhistorical neo-Buddhist separatism. – Koenraad Elst’s Blog,  26 October 2013

» Dr. Koenraad Elst studied at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Benares Hindu University he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998. As an independent researcher he has earned laurels and ostracism with his findings on hot items like Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-Europeanism, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy. He has also published on the interface of religion and politics, correlative cosmologies, the dark side of Buddhism, the reinvention of Hinduism, technical points of Indian and Chinese philosophies, various language policy issues, Maoism, the renewed relevance of Confucius in conservatism, the increasing Asian stamp on integrating world civilization, direct democracy, the defence of threatened freedoms, and the Belgian question. Regarding religion, he combines human sympathy with substantive skepticism.

Ambedkar's twenty-two anti-Hindu vows taken at Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur, Maharashtra.

No justice for Swami Lakshmanananda – Saswat Panigrahi

Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati

“Never have fear of death when you are working for the cause of the motherland.” 

Naveen PatnaikFive years ago on the sacred day of Janmashtami, revered Hindu monk Vedanta Keshari Swami Laksmanananda Saraswati was brutally murdered in his Jaleshpata hermitage in Kandhamal during a spiritual discourse. In a gruesome act, the assailants pumped bullets into the frail body of the 84-year-old Swamiji and four others on August 23, the day on which Janmashtami fell in 2008.

It is important to recall that after the gruesome killing of Swami Lakshmanananda and four others, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had promised to book the culprits expeditiously. Two commissions of inquiry have been formed to investigate Lakshmanananda’s murder. Five long years have passed since the macabre murder of Swamiji and four of his associates. But the killers and conspirators are still at large. This questions the sincerity of the BJD Government in cracking the case.

As I was writing the piece, the fast-unto-death by senior BJP leader Ashok Sahu to press for bringing the perpetrators and conspirators of Swamiji’s killing to justice, reached day 5.

Jesus with gun: Spreading the 'good word' by force.Before the murderous attack, there were nine such attacks on Lakshmanananda and it was common knowledge that every attack had a Missionary hand behind it. In December 2007, Lakshmanananda sustained serious injuries in a violent attack at Daringbadi, which is the centre of missionary activities in Kandhamal. Following the attack, several complaints were registered to enhance the Swami’s security, but they all fell on deaf ears. The Odisha Government did nothing.

On August 13, 2008, a threatening letter was circulated among the Kandhamal district administration and state authorities. A copy of this letter was forwarded to Swami Lakshmanananda. On August 22, 2008, Swamiji appealed to the District Magistrate of Kandhamal to enhance his personal security. But surprisingly, police protection was thinned down in the Jaleshpata Ashram. Local media had flashed the news that Swamiji’s life was under threat on the fateful day of August 23, 2008. The same evening he was killed along with four of his associates.

This was indeed an abysmal administrative failure by the Naveen Patnaik Government in Odisha to protect a social reformer from the tentacles of terrorism. But till date the Odisha Government has not given any explanation to this serious lapse.

Sabyasachi PandaNow, the question is who killed Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati. Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda is on record admitting that the Maoist’s of Bansadhara division had killed Saraswati. At the same time Sabyasachi had said that most Maoist cadre in Odisha are Christians. This points to a deeper Missionary-Maoist nexus.

Swami Lakshmanananda combated fraudulent conversion by Christian missionaries. He was spearheading the Goraksha Andolan (anti cow-slaughter movement). He was working for the socio-economic well-being of the marginalised and indigent in Kandhamal and thereby earned the ire of the missionaries who use charity as a façade for converting people away from their native faith. Hence the conspiratorial alliance of missionaries and Maoists in Swami Lakshmanananda’s killing is clearly visible.

Save the Cow!“Never have fear of death when you are working for the cause of the motherland.” These were the last words of Lakshmanananda.

Swami Lakshmanananda was relentless in his struggle for the cause of tribal welfare for four decades. He sacrificed his life in the service of the poor and crafted a template for social reform. His demise created a void in the field of selfless social service. But his work will inspire the lives and times for generations to come. Let’s salute the master. – Niti Central, 28 August 2013

See also

Guru is like a full moon – Chaitanya Keerti

Adhi Guru Dakshinamurthy

Swami Chaitanya Keerti“A guru is the one who liberates us and with whom we are in deep love, faith and reverence. A guru is a presence. Through him one gets the first glimpse of divinity. A guru creates, transforms and gives a new birth to a seeker so that with complete trust one can follow his guru while travelling through many unknown paths and doors and opening many unknown locks. His blessing is a vital phenomenon. Through a guru, we can look into our own future and can be aware of our own destiny. Through him, we start growing up like a seed trying to sprout towards the sky.” – Swami Chaitanya Keerti

Full moon over Arunachaleshwar TempleThousands of disciples of various gurus, especially in India, will be celebrating July 22, the night of full moon, to express their gratitude towards their gurus. The full moon in July is very significant, and it is called Aashadh Purnima. It is such a time, when we can never be sure if the full moon will be visible in the sky or not.

Osho has given a very poetic expression to this. He says: “Guru is like full moon and disciple is like Aashadh (the month of clouds and rains). The moon of Sharad Purnima is beautiful because it is in the empty sky.”

“There is no disciple then, the guru is alone. If the same beauty happens in Aashadh, then it is something, where the guru is surrounded with cloud-like disciples.”

Rishi Vyasa“The disciples have come with their darkness of many lives. They are like dark clouds, they are the weather of Aashadh. If the guru can shine like the full moon in that atmosphere of darkness, if he can produce light, only then he is the guru. That’s why Aashadh Purnima is called Guru Purnima.”

This brings us to another question: Who is a guru?

A guru is the one who liberates us and with whom we are in deep love, faith and reverence. A guru is a presence. Through him one gets the first glimpse of divinity. A guru creates, transforms and gives a new birth to a seeker so that with complete trust one can follow his guru while travelling through many unknown paths and doors and opening many unknown locks. His blessing is a vital phenomenon. Through a guru, we can look into our own future and can be aware of our own destiny. Through him, we start growing up like a seed trying to sprout towards the sky.

In Osho’s words: “Guru means one who has gravitation, around whom you suddenly feel as if you are being pulled. The guru is a tremendous magnet, with only one difference. There is a man who Gautama Buddhahas charisma—you are pulled, but you are pulled towards him. That is the man of charisma. He may become a great leader, a great politician. Adolf Hitler has that charisma; millions of people are pulled towards him. Then what is the difference between a charismatic leader and a guru? When you are pulled towards a guru you suddenly feel that you are being pulled inwards, not outwards.”

When you are pulled towards Kabir, Nanak or Buddha, you have a strange feeling. The feeling of being pulled towards them and at the same time you are being pulled inwards—a very strange paradoxical phenomenon: the closer you come to your guru, the closer you come to yourself.

The more you become attracted towards the guru, the more you become independent. The more you surrender to the guru, the more you feel that you have freedom you never enjoyed before.

Guru does not exist as an ego—he exists as a pure presence and godliness radiates through him. He is transparent. – Asian Age, 22 July 2013 

» Swami Chaitanya Keerti, editor of Osho World, is the author of Osho Fragrance.

» NB: The permanent link for this post is at

Hindu acharyas call for ending government control of Hindu temples – HPI

Hindu Dharma Acharya SabhaSwami Dayananda SaraswatiAt a day-long symposium on the subject “Government Control Of Temples–Constitutional Issues,” organized by the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha [HDAS] at New Delhi’s prestigious India International Centre on Sunday, July 14th, 2013, eminent jurists and top legal luminaries made impassioned presentations on the different aspects of the constitutional provisions governing the administration of temples by Government. Kamla Devi Conference Hall, the venue, was packed to its capacity with over one hundred participants including members of legal fraternity, leaders of a number of Hindu organisations, NGO’s, social workers, political personalities and media persons.

Swami Parmatmananda, secretary, HDAS, welcomed the gathering and explained the objectives of the symposium and the role of Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, a representative body of heads of different denominations of Hindu society. Addressing the gathering, Swami said, “The Acharya Sabha has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court questioning the constitutional validity of the different state acts controlling temples. The purpose of the symposium is to bring awareness on the constitutional position and legality of state controlling all aspects of the administration of the Hindu temples.”

In his address, Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Convener, HDAS, recalled how, many rulers and devotees endowed different temples with enormous land and wealth to sustain worship. Swami said, “Each temple had a unique Deity and it is the Deity who owns the property endowed. The Deity in the Chidambaram Siva Temple is Nataraja; in Thiruvaraur, the Deity is Thyagaraja; in Mannargudi, it’s Lord Vishnu as Rajagopala. Each temple therefore has a unique Deity and set of practices, and they are the repository of our culture. Now all the wealth is not properly utilized for the worship of the Lord or for propagation of the denomination of the temple.” Swami also maintained that Hindus should unite to take back control of Hindu temples from the government. He felt this is the only way the Hindu community can find the money to propagate the religion and withstand the onslaught of conversion by other religions.

Rama JoisEminent Supreme Court advocate Aman Lekhi, walked the gathering through evolution of the laws that govern the temple administration. However he concluded his speech by saying, “I would say temples need to be regulated when there is an occasion or a justification for it. If the machinery of the state is there to help us to regulate the temples, that is appropriate. But then we have to use it for our purpose. Because the machinery of the state would be the best machinery available to us for the purpose of managing the temples. That said, we cannot concede to those who control, the right to take over. However in the guise of control, the temple cannot be consumed and this provision would be there in the act.”

Sitting Rajya Sabha member, Ex Governor of Jharkhand, past Chief Justice Punjab and Haryana High Court Rama Jois in his speech explained the concept of dharma and how it was the font of secular thought. “It is incorrect to term dharma to be a religious concept.” It is a universal concept, he asserted. He observed, “Law is punitive and is there in the picture after the offense is committed; dharma is preventive, it prevents offense.” He went on to share the Dharmic Administration he drafted for the Karnataka Government. The eminent former justice also stated, “Archakas in temple must have Godly personality which increases the ‘bhakti’ and faith in temple worship. These human feelings are the basis of temple worship and this is therefore recognized as a basic human right. This Pinky Ananddevotion to God constitute the very foundation of all the religions. Dharma is a code of righteous conduct and religions are different mode of worship of God by all the believers.”

Eminent Supreme Court Advocate Ms. Pinky Anand speaking on constitutional rights argued that provisions in the law for take over of temple by government, approval of funding of religious rituals are all invalid and not tenable. She lamented that though there were several Supreme Court judgements against government, these were not implemented.

Sri K.N. Bhat, eminent Supreme Court Advocate who has practiced for more than 50 years and has the privilege of having represented the Deity, Lord Ram, in the Ram Janambhumi case, sharing his thoughts said, “Legal remedies are fraught with uncertainties. Governments are attracted to temples only because of their properties and also for what they can take away from the temples.” According to him, “Hindus were being treated as second-class citizens. While there are a number of laws and judgements, only a strong society, with a strong government can redress the wrongs.” He concluded by saying that control must be there for all religions and not selectively only for the majority community.

Later in the day, Justice Kokje, Sri M. N. Krishnamani and Dr. Subramaniam Swamy addressed the gathering. The predominant assertion was that constitutionally and on the basis of various Supreme Court judgements, take over of temples was totally illegal.

Vishnu Sadashiv KokjeSri S. Gurumurthy who could not personally make it to the event, stated his views in a written message, “Making Hindu religious institutions part of the secular state and making the secular state perform religious functions of the Hindus have led to different denominations of the Hindus claiming to be not Hindus–for example the Arya Samaj, Jains, Lingayats and the like. This will lead to the disintegration of not only the Hindu society but the nation itself. India will ultimately end up as nation of minorities with no majority!”

One of the highlights of the event was a slide show presentation by Temple Worshippers Society which highlighted how the government control of temples in many cases was leading to conversion of Hindu temples into commercial ventures and political instruments. They highlighted several instances of subversion of law, looting of temple properties, destroying and defiling of temples which were being regulated, managed and controlled by government through its official machinery. – Hindu Press International, 17 July 2013

Spanish Hindus have their first national conference in Madrid – El Faro

Jhulelal Hindu Temple in Madrid

Hinduism Today representatives with Spanish sannyasi Swami Satyananda Saraswati (R) in Barcelona.MADRID: The priest Juan Carlos Ramchandani, of Ceuta, successfully concluded participation in the first meeting of Hindus of Spain on June 8 and 9 in Madrid, where he served as coordinator. The conference, one of the great aspirations of the community in recent years, benefited from presentations and panel discussions by leading personalities of that religious denomination in Spain. The meeting of the various schools of Hinduism took place in the Jhulelal Temple, which selflessly lent its facilities for the two-day event. A commemorative poster, with text in Castilian and Sanskrit, was created for the event by the artist Hari Chaitanya. 

The program began with a puja (ritual) to welcome the participants and the Mangalacharan, an invocation with recitation of mantras to favor an auspicious beginning. Then, it was Ramchandani who opened the meeting with a presentation on the state of Hinduism in this country, and called on other groups to seek unity in diversity. 

Alvaro Enterria: He runs the Indica bookshop in the centre of Varanasi.Among the speakers was the writer and editor Alvaro Enterria, resident in India for 30 years, whose exposure to Orthodox Hinduism and integration of foreigners mainly revolved around his personal experience as a Hindu believer of Western origin in that country. The monk and scholar Swami Satyananda spoke about teaching the Hindu tradition in a world that doesn’t value spiritual life and a return to the fundamental principles of Vedic cultural heritage. Philosopher and teacher of Yoga, Oscar Montero, Swami Omkarananda, from the Sivananda Mandir Hindu Temple of Valencia, and doctor of philosophy and writer Javier Ruiz Calderon also were among the speakers. 

Attendance at this meeting was by invitation and was limited to a small group of those who are very committed to Hinduism in Spain. Plans are now being made for a Hindu congress which will be open to the general public the next year.  – El Faro Digital, 15 June 2013

Spanish Hindus in Madrid    


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